Olympics: Kiwis fly other flags at Games

By Kathryn Powley

Sione and Julie Fonua. Photo / Supplied
Sione and Julie Fonua. Photo / Supplied

At least six New Zealand-born athletes will represent other countries at the London Olympics, as their families here cheer them on.

Amini Fonua, 22, who was born in Auckland, carries the hopes of Tonga on his strong swimmer's shoulders. His parents, British-born Julia and Auckland-based Tongan lawyer Sione Fonua, head for London this week with Amini's two sisters to watch him race in the 100m breaststroke.

"Amini is the first person to swim for Tonga at the Olympics," said his proud dad, who is the president of the Tongan Swimming Federation. "There are no swimming pools in Tonga apart from in hotels. It's a new sport for Tonga."

Fonua's swimming career began with the Roskill Swimming Club based at Cameron Pool, but these days he is based at Texas A&M University near Houston, where he is completing his fifth and final year studying a telecommunications and media degree on a swimming scholarship.

He said it had been his life goal to get to the Olympics, and now his ambition was to achieve a personal best at the Games.

"When he qualified he was over the moon," said Sione Fonua.

He'd always been very proud of his Tongan heritage, but spoke only a little of the language.

Fonua had been trained by New Zealander Jon Winter, who was designated head coach for Tonga.

Other New Zealand-born Olympians included Aron Baynes, 25, a basketballer for Australia, who was born in Gisborne. His uncle Ian Barron of Auckland said Baynes' family had moved to Australia when he was 2 or 3 and his excited parents Barbara and Marton would be in London to watch him play.

"The whole family's pretty thrilled for Aron. He has worked very hard," he said.

The other exported Kiwi-born talents are:

Jozef Klaassen, 29, a member of Holland's rowing team, who was born in Thames and left New Zealand several years ago;

Ella Nicholas, 21, a kayaker for the Cook Islands, was also born in Tauranga; Francesca Snell, 25, a water polo player for Britain, who is from Auckland; Joshua Utanga, 24, a kayaker for Cook Islands, who was born here.

Kiwis are helping out behind the scenes, too. Hugh McCutcheon coaches the US women's volleyball team and Jeni Pearce is nutritionist for the British Olympic athletes' pre-games "holding camp".

So when you're that involved with another country's medal hopes, who do you cheer for? Taupo-born Pearce was conflicted: "I want the best athlete to win, but I also want New Zealanders to do really well and they also have a history of punching above their weight," she said.

New Zealand actually imports more athletes than it exports, however: 26 of our 184 athletes were born overseas.

NZ athletes delayed

New Zealand's Olympic athletes have been caught up in the traffic chaos of London after their buses from the airport were delayed.

Just weeks before the Olympic Games begin, embarrassing logistical issues have surfaced including traffic jams, security staff who don't speak English and breakdowns with the telecommunication network.

Chef de Mission Dave Currie said most of New Zealand's athletes arrived this week and had settled in.

He said the arrival was a fairly smooth one except for bus delays from Heathrow Airport.

The Herald on Sunday understands some athletes were stuck on a bus for four hours from the airport to the Olympic Park Village, a route that should take 40 minutes, or an hour on public transport.

- Chloe Johnson

- Herald on Sunday

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